“When, through repetition, you practice being inventive and playful, your concerts will resound with those same spontaneous traits.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 53
We musicians do a lot of repeating.
In practice, we necessarily repeat material to refine our skills, learn and maintain repertoire, and polish our interpretations.
How can we cultivate artistry through repetition and avert staleness?
To answer to that question, in The Musician’s Way, I propose the following four principles of artistic repetition.
1. Insist on Excellence
Throughout The Musician’s Way, I emphasize seven habits of excellence: ease, expressiveness, accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positive attitude.
By embodying those traits in each moment that we practice, we instill quality with every note.
Conversely, “Musicians who repeat without excellence marinate in mediocrity.” (TMW, p. 52)
2. Reject Mindless Repetition
To ensure that every sound we make permeates with precision, when approaching new material, we should always establish interpretive and technical maps before we play or sing instead of messily repeating unfamiliar passages.
We should also be vigilant to solve problems in practice as they arise as opposed to disregarding errors.
Errors inform us of gaps in our understanding; we should embrace and not ignore them. That said, we mustn’t repeat errors, or else we’ll ingrain mistake-ridden habits.
In fact, through mindful attention to detail, we master material efficiently, minimizing errors and any need for excessive repeating.
3. Aim for Growth Rather than Sameness
We repeat to grow, not stay the same, as well as to acquire flexible skills. With each reiteration of a passage, therefore, we should improve, change, and explore.
As an illustration, after one clean statement of a phrase in practice, for a second pass, we might aim for richer tone and looser limbs. The third time, we could reinforce those objectives while also adding crispness to our articulation.
“Whatever the material, your repetitions should lead somewhere meaningful – to greater ease, higher beauty, and deeper feeling.” (TMW, p. 52)
4. Evaluate Continuously
When we keenly listen, feel, and imagine as we practice, every aspect of our music making becomes fascinating: “Shrewd evaluation transforms repetition from drudgery into a white-hot fire of musical refinement.” (p. 53)
By honestly evaluating our work, we sift out what we don’t want and rise toward our potential. In a sense, through the refining fire of repetition, we become the artists we truly are.
For more about managing repetition in solo practice, see Chapter 3 of The Musician’s Way. Chapter 6 covers strategies for ensemble practice.